Tag archives for Midsummer

THE COUNTDOWN IS ON

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now officially within one week of Midsummer. Hallelujah!

This will be my fourth summer in Sweden, but I have only been to one Midsummer celebration before. Actually, it was all the endless talk about Midsummer that served as a reason to visit Sweden for the first time. I was studying in Italy at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, and I kept hearing about this amazing day from all my Swedish friends. When my friend Josefin, a native Stockholmer, invited me to join her and her friends out in the archipelago for the celebration, I was all about it. Surprised to learn that there was an archipelago, but enthusiastic all the same.

Dear Josefin, Princess of Midsummer, yes I will come visit you on an island and eat large amounts of delicious herring and dance around Maypoles with you. Anytime. Photo: Kate Wiseman.

So on the day before Midsummer in 2008, I jumped on a Ryan Air flight from Italy to Stockholm, arriving in the city around midnght, just in time to catch the sun making an obligatory nod towards the horizon before starting to climb back up in the sky. Welcome to the land of the midnight sun.

The conditions were perfect for a terrible, terrible let down. I had traveled from one end of the continent to another to take part in super-hyped day with a bunch of people I didn’t know (except for my friend, of course) for a holiday whose festivities are largely dependent on the weather being good. And yet, despite all that, the day was perfect.

Garlands of flowers for your hair and maypoles to dance around: what more could you ask for? Photo: Kate Wiseman.

The weather was flawless: warm and sunny on an island where the sky stretches for miles. I discovered for the first time just how well the general Swedish population speaks English. A Maypole was erected, and while I didn’t know what was being sung, I hopped around said Maypole in a circle with the rest of my new acquaintances while they sang and laughed. (Later I was told that I was a little frog, hopping around.)

Drinking songs were also sung, and great quantities of bitter-tasting aquavit were drunk. I had my first taste of herring, and for a few moments I very seriously considered taking a swim before a tentative toe stuck in the water sent me racing for the comfort of blankets. And while it got a little dim late at night, the sun never really set.

This is the sweet life. Midsummer food and the most perfect Swedish cottage of all time. Photo: Kate Wiseman.

Now, three years later, I get to do it again. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Here’s the skinny on Midsummer (or Midsommar, if you want to be authentic about it). It is yet another of the many holidays with its roots in pagan traditions, but this one does not have a Christian tradition that was superimposed over it. It’s a good old-fashioned sun-worshipping/fertility/thank God it’s summer festival, originally celebrated on the summer solstice (June 21) but now celebrated on the Friday closest to the solstice.

Traditional celebrations involve a very distinctive Maypole (think fertility again), lots of food, and even more aquavit–a very strong, flavored liquor. I’m sure our resident food blogger will be talking more about the menu and drink choices, but I’ll be covering other Midsummer traditions in more detail throughout the week… stay tuned for more!

The essential Swedish summer student guide

You smell like a goat. You’re unshaven. You work endless hours in dimly lit caves. You speak a language understood only by others of your kind. You fear women and put prices on men’s heads. And legions of enemies long to destroy you.

The Swedish summer is not to be missed. Photo: Ben Mack

You are, of course, a journalist.

All you care about is your pretend world of writing. Everything you do is in an effort to find words for your next story. That’s all it is.

On the other end of the spectrum of humanity, you have the student. Idealistic, joyful, fresh-scented: the antithesis of a journalist.

Everything you encounter you view with a sense of open-minded wonder. Life is seen as a series of experiences, and your only motivation is to experience them.

And when it comes to experiences, the Swedish summer is chock-full of them – and at student-friendly prices, too.

If you decide to come to Sweden before the start of the fall semester – or stick around after the spring – you’ll be in for a treat that even dour-demeanored journalists such as myself can appreciate.

Here’s a brief (and admittedly very small) sampling of what you can do:

_______________________ 

SEE THE MIDNIGHT SUN

In Norrland, the sun almost never sets during the summer. Photo: Ben Mack

While normally associated with ice hotels, the Northern Lights and freezing temperatures almost year-round, head up to Norrland during the summer and you can experience sunshine almost 24 hours a day. It never gets totally dark, and is a great chance to go north of the Arctic Circle without needing snowshoes. Be sure to check out the wildlife such as reindeer, and if you get a chance try hiking up Kebnekaise, Sweden’s tallest mountain (over 2000 meters high). You can also learn about the Sami, the indigenous people who have lived in Sweden for more than 5000 years.

SJ offers daily (and nightly) train journeys, going as far as Narvik, Norway. A one-way trip from Växjö takes more than 20 hours, but offers spectacular views of some of the most unspoiled natural areas in the world.

_______________________ 

GO FISHING

Thousands of lakes dot Sweden, and almost every one of them is loaded with fish. And thanks to allemansrätten (“everyman’s right”), you can fish in quite a few of them. Check local laws first, though, to make sure you’re not catching an endangered species.

_______________________ 

ROUGH IT SWEDISH STYLE

Swedes are known for having a special connection to nature, which is reflected in architecture. Photo: Ben Mack

Allemansrätten gives a person the right to access, walk, cycle, ride, ski, and camp on any land –with the exception of private gardens, the immediate vicinity of a house and farmland. Restrictions also apply for nature reserves and other protected areas. The law also gives the right to pick wild flowers, mushrooms and berries (provided they are not legally protected), but not to hunt. Swimming in any lake and putting an unpowered boat on any water is permitted unless explicitly forbidden. Visiting beaches and walking by a shoreline is permitted, providing it is not a part of a garden or within the immediate vicinity of a residence. According to legal practice this is between 100 to 300 meters from a dwelling house.

In other words, almost the entire countryside becomes your own personal playground. Just remember to clean up after yourself: Swedes take environmental stewardship very seriously.

Despite its northerly location, daytime summer temperatures throughout Sweden are commonly above 20 degrees Celsius. So go and enjoy the great outdoors – without losing a kilo of sweat.

 _______________________

GET YOUR GROOVE ON

Summer is music festival season throughout Europe, and Sweden is no exception. Photo: Csilla Nagy

Summer means music festival season, and Sweden offers a plethora of them for almost every taste. From large, multi-day events such as Gothenburg’s Way Out West (this year from August 11-13 and featuring Kanye West, Robyn, Tiësto, and dozens of other bands) to smaller festivals such as Norbergfestival (July 28-30 in Norberg, featuring electronic and experimental acts like Lustmord and Dopplereffekt) and Skogsröjet (August 12-13 in Rejmyre, with metal bands like W.A.S.P. and hardcore Superstar), there’s something for everyone. Many festivals also offer camping, meaning you can turn your trip into an aural adventure.

_______________________ 

RELEASE YOUR INNER IBRAHIMOVIC

Helsingborg's Olympia Stadium is just one of many that hosts regular Allsvenskan matches. Photo: Ben Mack

Allsvenskan (meaning “All-Swedish”) is the highest division of football in Sweden, with the 16 teams playing a 30-game schedule from April to October. Most of the teams are located in southern Sweden, and each stadium holds thousands of supporters. Student tickets can be as cheap as 100 kronor, and even if you’re not a die-hard supporter of a club, it’s a great way to spend the afternoon and watch normally mild-mannered Swedes display emotions you didn’t think were possible. And with Swedish football encompassing a total of 10 tiers (Allsvenskan, Superettan, and Divisions 1-8), there’s a match going on just about everywhere.

 _______________________

STUDY SWEDISH

Make your summer a study summer, where you learn Swedish to get a leg-up before fall classes start. A number of study associations offer courses at all levels. Possibly, you might also be eligible for university courses in Swedish, either full- or part-time.

Once you’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency, you can get a certificate by passing a recognized test.  To find the program that’s right for you, the Swedish Institute has some great links to get you started.

 _______________________

DANCE AROUND A MIDSUMMER MAYPOLE

June 25 is Midsummer, one of the biggest holidays of the year in Sweden. Traditional events include raising and dancing around a huge maypole (majstång or midsommarstång), an activity that attracts families and many others. People listen to traditional music and some even wear traditional folk costumes. In addition, many wear crowns made of wild springs and wildflowers on their heads. Potatoes, herring, chives, sour cream, beer, snaps and the famous Swedish strawberries are usually eaten. Drinking songs are also important, and many drink heavily. Swedish culture at its finest, it is truly an event not to be missed.

 _______________________

So while the above list may just be a small sampler from the Swedish summer smorgasbord, know this: there’s never a shortage of things to do. For more ideas, head to your local tourist office (most towns have one), or search online.

Or better yet, step outside. You’ll be surprised how sunny it is.

If you’re a journalist, it’s a great way to at least get tan enough to resemble a ghost. That, and more material for your overly exaggerated narrative.

Swedish National Day, June 6, is sometimes called the unofficial start of summer. Photo: Ben Mack

Welcome to the neighborhood!

My first encounter with Sweden came in Italy, when I was a student at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. I started dating a Swede within the first couple of months, and my Italian roommates had some cautionary words for me.

Svedessi sono freddi. Cold, like their country. Just a little frightening.

The man on the right (my roommate Giuseppe) was responsible for the pearls of wisdom about Swedish people, but clearly we're coming from a very different perspective in any case.

I kept dating the Swede, though, and then I went back to the United States for my last year of college. I got used to fielding questions about Sweden and Swedish people, a country I had still only spent five days in. No, they don’t have Swedish fish (American gummy candy). Yes, they are really quite blond, generally speaking. No, they’re not all crazy socialists (it’s a parliamentary democracy, duh). Yes, they are really good-looking. I also got to see my own culture through foreign eyes for the first time: to see how different it is to need a car for life in the suburbs, to appreciate how warm and welcoming Americans are, to experience the joy of actually receiving service with a smile and the delight of unlimited soda refills.

My first trip to Sweden, my first Midsummer in Stockholm, my first encounter with herring.

After I graduated, I went to Sweden for two and a half months during the summer, just short of the 90 days I was allowed to stay in the country without a visa. I fell in love with the warm summer days, the easy-going lifestyle, the fact that the whole country seemed to be on vacation, and the bicycles. I learned that waffles are a dessert item, not a breakfast food, and that the best way to eat them is covered in jam made of cloudberries, a sought-after yellow berry that grows only in the far north of Sweden. I also brought parts of America with me, in the form of a 4th of July barbeque party, Mexican food nights, and real American pancakes with maple syrup.

Swedish-style dessert waffles at Skansen, an open air museum and zoo in Stockholm. Note the gooey yellow stuff on the waffle: that's the cloudberry jam!

Another summer ended, and I returned yet again to the United States. I worked in Washington, D.C. first as a waitress and then as an English language teacher at an international language school while applying to other jobs throughout the world. I was aiming for a job just about anywhere in Europe so that I could take a step closer to Simon and to Sweden.

It took awhile for me to figure out that I could actually apply for what my family jokingly referred to as “a love visa” to Sweden just on the basis of my relationship with my Swede. It seemed ludicrous at first. I can get a legitimate visa to Sweden just on the basis of “planning to marry or cohabit with a Swedish citizen?” This is clearly a land both inhabited and legislated by starry-eyed lovers.

I filed the application, and in the meantime, I got a job in Vienna, Austria. I moved there in January 2010, and about a week after I accepted a year-long position there as a project manager, my visa application to Sweden was accepted. Of course.

In May, after a few more months of shuttling back and forth between Vienna and Lund, I gave notice at my job and filed my residency papers for Sweden. In July, Simon and I drove halfway across the continent with a trunk full of my things, headed for the land of Vikings and meatballs, crayfish and Aquavit, long winters and long summer days, Maypole dances and government-mandated coffee breaks.

Two friendly Swedes illustrating the finer points of mushroom picking.

For the last seven months, I’ve had the opportunity to be immersed in Swedish culture as an American abroad, and it feels like I have a foot in both cultures. My friends are almost all Swedish, and they’ve included me as part of their group and done their best to humor my questions and explain what’s going on. (Now tell me again, why does Lucia wear candles on her head? And why are the boys dressed like wizards?) I’ve been enrolled in my free government “Swedish for Immigrant” classes, where I meet other immigrants and learn about Swedish culture from a pedagogical perspective. At the same time, I’ve been able to introduce my own cultural traditions within my group of friends, with carving pumpkins for Halloween, hosting our very own Thanksgiving, and baking chocolate chip cookies.

Eating Swedish meatballs in Sweden used to be an exotic and photo-worthy happening. No more.

Welcome to my expat blog at Sweden.se! Skål!


Midsummer madness…and midsummer sadness

When I went south to my home town for midsummer celebration this year I was thinking about a post a colleague made a couple of days ago: Midsummer madness. I decided to try to bring back the perfect midsummer picture.

The conditions were perfect: happy people, dancing children, a beautiful maypole and sunny weather.  We had a fantastic day. I took a lot of pictures. Late Sunday evening I came back to Stockholm and was excited to go through all my pictures…which showed a lonely maypole and no happy dancing people at all. Not what I had planned to show and share. Just a pretty bad picture with a touch of melancholic back light. Again.

Maypole

Sometimes it´s very frustrating to love pictures but to be a lousy photographer.

/Cecilia

Midsummer loving

Midsummer

Midsummer

It was timely that the romantic weekend of the Royal nuptials was followed by the holiday weekend the majority of Swedes love most. Midsummer.

During my last eight years in Sweden, midsummer and I have not had the best of relations.

I recall most spent in the wrong part of Sweden, sheltering from rainclouds, and an inexcusable 2008 celebration where I slept for the best part of the day after underestimating the strength of schnapps.

This year, the forecast was good. The sun was set to shine all over the country and my trick was to alternate the aquavit with a shot of water and hope the Swedes wouldn’t notice.

I was prematurely enthusiastic and picked seven sorts of flowers to lay under my pillow before bedtime, in line with the tradition that I would dream of my future husband that night.

Time was of the essence and I only had the dried up offerings from the window boxes of my Stockholm apartment to choose from but at least the effort was there.

Yet what I hoped would be a midsummer night’s dream turned nightmare after tossing and turning till four o’ clock in the morning – an allergic reaction, it seemed, to sharing my bed with both plant life and sambo.

Keeping him awake until the early hours didn’t do much to endear my potential husband to be. He hazily told me I laid them one night too early so I cast them aside, stocked up on anti-histamines and slumbered till dawn.

Despite previous misfortunes, as ex-pat in Sweden you soon learn to love midsummer; you memorize the words and actions of the folk songs even if you don’t quite understand them and acquire rather than squint at the taste of sill (pickled herring).

Just as most Swedes leave the city behind, my sambo and I were duly invited to the countryside home of some friends an hour north of Stockholm, plus two hours of traffic queues.

It was the perfect picturesque setting in which to celebrate, amid a sprinkling of red cottages by the calm water.

And we had all the right ingredients for a perfect day in the surroundings of Swedish nature at its very best. High time then for another failed floral attempt, this time in the creation of a customary midsummer headdress.

As my wonderful Swedish hostess carefully wove her wreath into a perfectly shaped blooming crown, my construction looked more like a weedy wig meets military camouflage. You can clearly see the evidence.

Midsummer madness

Photo: Fredrik Schlyter/Johnér/Image Bank Sweden

If you only know Swedish Midsummer from photos, you probably think of happy people in sunny weather — perhaps also children with flowers in their hair. Something very idyllic, basically. Reality is not always as idyllic, however; real-life Midsummer may bring a fair share of rain, drunkenness and drama.

When we picked photos for our new book Sweden — Up North, Down to Earth, we disagreed on how to illustrate Midsummer. Picture editor Cecilia had found a fantastic photo, fairly similar to the one above: a maypole against the setting Midsummer sun (but that one also had a few people in it). Another colleague thought the backlight made it look too melancholic, too far from the happy–flowery version of Midsummer, I suppose. Nothing wrong with the compromise photo chosen instead (below), but I don’t think it’s quite as dramatic–romantic as the other one.


A page from the book Sweden — Up North, Down to Earth with a photo by Berno Hjälmrud/Link Image.

I think the photo discussion was a natural consequence of the fact that Midsummer is a big deal for most Swedes. Expectations of Midsummer celebrations are often sky-high and disappointment is looming on the horizon. The perfect Midsummer should have the sunniest weather, the best friends and family, the prettiest maypole, the funniest games, the coldest schnapps…

I used to avoid disappointment by simply throwing brilliant parties myself, inviting my equally brilliant friends. Now, unfortunately, most friends live a little too far away, and with Friday June 25 (Midsummer Eve) quickly approaching, I’m actually suffering from some sort of Midsummer stress myself. I plan to cure it with lime and vodka-pickled herring and home-baked strawberry cake on the day, so not to worry. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some sunshine.

At least I’ve put together a pretty much perfect Midsummer page on Sweden.se for you to enjoy. So Happy Midsummer to all of you!

PS. The Swedish Crown Princess’s wedding was almost as nice as my own royal wedding would have been — and they did serve crayfish from the west coast, just as I recommended. :-)

Celebrating summer in a climate conscious way

Midsummer-dinner
Eating and drinking are important parts of celebrating Midsummer. Photo: Henrik Trygg/www.imagebank.sweden.se.

Tomorrow Sweden goes into celebration mode. Midsummer, one of Sweden’s most loved holidays, celebrates the longest day of the year and a long awaited summer.
Celebrating Midsummer typically involves spending time outside, preferably in the countryside, raise  a Maypole – and eating a lot. All over the country people are preparing and queues are long at supermarkets, people struggling with heavy bags filled with new potatoes, sour cream, pickled herring and fresh strawberries.

Local food

Actually the traditional Midsummer food is pretty good from a sustainability point of view. Most of it is possible to find locally produced. But after the holidays, eating habits go back to normal again. Just a few days ago the Swedish National Food Administration presented new advice on how to eat in order to benefit health but at the same time consider climate and environmental effects.

Clams are good

Food production generates about 25 percent of Swedish consumers’ greenhouse gas emissions. The report, which has to be sent to the member states of the European Union before being officially published, recommends for example eating less meat (beef production leads to 15 –25 kilos greenhouse gases per kilo meat), more clams (which live on plant plankton, thus helping to reduce eutrophication), eating according to season and what can be locally produced.
Considering that Swedish meat consumption has risen to more than 65 kilos per person/year and that we are one of the nations which consume most bananas in the world, we still have quite a lot to learn.

Obviously some of the advice are mostly suitable for this part of the world. But some principles, such as eating less meat and avoid bottled water, are globally valid. If I find the recommendations in English I’ll publish the link on this blog.
For more ideas on how to celebrate Midsummer: Create your own Swedish Midsummer party.

Celebrating summer in a climate conscious way

Midsummer-dinner
Eating and drinking are important parts of celebrating Midsummer. Photo: Henrik Trygg/www.imagebank.sweden.se.

Tomorrow Sweden goes into celebration mode. Midsummer, one of Sweden’s most loved holidays, celebrates the longest day of the year and a long awaited summer.
Celebrating Midsummer typically involves spending time outside, preferably in the countryside, raise  a Maypole – and eating a lot. All over the country people are preparing and queues are long at supermarkets, people struggling with heavy bags filled with new potatoes, sour cream, pickled herring and fresh strawberries.

Local food

Actually the traditional Midsummer food is pretty good from a sustainability point of view. Most of it is possible to find locally produced. But after the holidays, eating habits go back to normal again. Just a few days ago the Swedish National Food Administration presented new advice on how to eat in order to benefit health but at the same time consider climate and environmental effects.

Clams are good

Food production generates about 25 percent of Swedish consumers’ greenhouse gas emissions. The report, which has to be sent to the member states of the European Union before being officially published, recommends for example eating less meat (beef production leads to 15 –25 kilos greenhouse gases per kilo meat), more clams (which live on plant plankton, thus helping to reduce eutrophication), eating according to season and what can be locally produced.
Considering that Swedish meat consumption has risen to more than 65 kilos per person/year and that we are one of the nations which consume most bananas in the world, we still have quite a lot to learn.

Obviously some of the advice are mostly suitable for this part of the world. But some principles, such as eating less meat and avoid bottled water, are globally valid. If I find the recommendations in English I’ll publish the link on this blog.
For more ideas on how to celebrate Midsummer: Create your own Swedish Midsummer party.